'Rebecca' producer still eyes Broadway opening
Last fall, Broadway producer Ben Sprecher's world, filled with grand expectations that he would produce the long-awaited "Rebecca: The Musical" in 2012, began to collapse.
It was then that Sprecher said he learned through his attorney that a West Islip businessman named Mark Hotton, who had promised that he had located some overseas financial backers willing to pump $4.5 million into the show, may have been a fraud. The mystery backers, federal investigators charged in October, were just a bunch of elaborate fabrications.
On Friday, Sprecher said that, despite the financial shenanigans, he has received an extension of the rights to do the musical through the end of the year and is trying to raise the money that never materialized when Hotton's alleged fraud surfaced.
"Our intention is to open on Broadway in late 2013," Sprecher said in an email.
However, Hotton's future is not as promising.
Hotton, 46, who has been in jail since his arrest in October in the "Rebecca," case, is, through his defense attorney, in active plea negotiations to end the case before trial, a federal prosecutor said in court Friday. If he does plea bargain, Hotton is likely to get prison time, depending on federal sentencing guidelines. His Manhattan court-appointed attorney, Ira London, declined to comment.
Hotton also is charged in a separate federal case in Central Islip, along with his wife, Sherri, and others, with fraud in other business dealings. If convicted, Hotton faces a maximum of 40 years in prison.
With virtually no assets unencumbered by legal action, Hotton has been trying to put together a bail package with the help of friends that would get him out of jail to fight both sets of charges. So far, no bail has been granted.
Before his arrest, Hotton had worked in real estate, construction and, most recently, the securities industry.
His ex-wife remembers him as hard-driving and determined, and that he said his prayers at night before bedtime.
"Every night without fail," said Jody Volponi, who was married to Hotton for five years before the couple divorced in 2002.
When Volponi met Hotton, she said he was of such modest means that he owned only four business suits and two ties. But years later, Hotton -- an avid sailor -- had made enough to buy a yacht that friends said he regularly sailed to the Caribbean. His largest vessel was a 50-footer known as the Hott Catch.
Interviews with old friends and ex-family members paint a picture of Hotton as an aggressive workaholic.
Volponi said Hotton was a driven man, a planner with a gift for gab.
"He was in very fast-forward mode, a lot of energy," recalled Volponi. "He was making plans to do a millions of things in a day. . . . He used to work very hard, I will give him that."
The son of the late West Islip construction businessman Carl Hotton, Mark Hotton joined his father's firm and soon worked his way into real estate deals, recalled a friend who didn't want to be named. Hotton then took various jobs in the securities industry, finally ending up at Oppenheimer & Co Inc. in 2005, records showed.
But it was at Oppenheimer that Hotton faced a claim from a Long Island couple, who said he misappropriated their money. That case is now in arbitration. Officials at Oppenheimer did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
Hotton's businesses outside of Oppenheimer, which included some electrical companies, also became ensnared in pending lawsuits that alleged he had committed fraud. Facing many legal problems, Hotton, his wife and their companies filed for bankruptcy in 2011, listing potential liabilities of $15 million and assets totaling about $1 million.
Now, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have accused the Hottons of making false filings in the bankruptcy to hide assets.